MEN’S HOCKEY: Elis push for home ice

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Photo by Katherine Garvey.

The No. 14 men’s hockey team plays its final two road games this weekend against traditional Ivy opponents Harvard and Dartmouth. Coupled with losses from the teams above them, the Bulldogs (13–8–4, 8–7–3 ECAC) not only have the opportunity to jump from fifth to second in the Ivy standings, but — more importantly — jump from sixth to third in the ECAC standings, which would put the Elis in position to have home ice for the conference tournament.

“We are a strong skating team,” said forward Nicholas Weberg ’15. “We need to suffocate teams and wear them down with our skating and energy. If we do that well this weekend I think we can be very successful. At this point in the season everyone in our team knows our systems. It just comes down to how well we execute them.”

Yale has had an inconsistent second half of the year, going 6–5–1 since January, and has slipped down to 21st in the PairWise rankings, whose top 16 teams typically receive bids to NCAA tournament. The men’s hockey team has fared better in its Saturday matchups than its Friday contests. The Elis have gone 9–2–3 and 3–6–1 on Saturday and Friday, respectively.

The Bulldog offense, which has been held to one or fewer goals just twice in the last 12 games, has been supported by scoring from the blue line, which has posted 21 points in the last four weeks. Three defenders rank in the top five Yale point getters with Tommy Fallen ’15, Ryan Obuchowski ’16 and Gus Young ’14 all tied with 14 points. Still, Yale’s leading forwards, captain Jesse Root ’14 and left wing Kenny Agostino ’14, are coming off four- and three-point nights, respectively, against Princeton last Saturday.

The Eli defense has conceded four or more goals in three straight games, dropping the Bulldogs from 12th to 16th in the nation in team defense. In addition, the Bulldogs have been out-shot by their opponents in three of the last four games.

“We have been practicing our defensive zone coverage and rush defense all week and it has been a big emphasis for us this week in practice so we are tightening up the mistakes that have plagued us all year,” Obuchowski said.

Last time at Ingalls Rink, Yale had a tough time against Harvard (9–12–4, 5–9–4), needing to come back to tie 2–2 in overtime on Dec. 7. The long-time rivals’ highly publicized matchup at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11 was a vastly different story. The Bulldogs dominated the Crimson from start to finish, winning 5–1 thanks to stellar play from goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 and two goals from Cody Learned ’16, who was named MVP.

Yale will travel to Cambridge, Mass. on Friday night to face a red hot Crimson squad, which is undefeated in its last four games. Harvard is led on offense by rookie forward Sean Mallone, who is on a four game point streak, and leading scorer forward Jimmy Vesey, who has five points in the last three games. The Crimson offense and defense have been playing well, scoring 11 goals in four games and shutting out their opponents twice in the same time span.

Junior goaltender Steve Michalek has regained the starting job from senior Raphael Girard and posted a stunning .951 save percentage in his last five games. The Bulldogs trail in the all time series 82–138–19 but won 5–1 last year in Cambridge.

“I don’t think we need to put any extra focus on the day of the game,” Weberg said, referring the Elis’ Friday struggles. “We need two wins this weekend and that starts with getting a win [on Friday]. Games against Harvard are always tough and exciting to play in. I’m expecting a good team with some highly skilled players but at the end of the day we only worry about ourselves and playing at our highest level.”

On Saturday night, the Elis will head north to New Hampshire to take on Dartmouth (6–16–3, 5–12–1 ECAC). The Big Green routed the Bulldogs at Ingalls back on Dec 6 4–1 and come into the matchup having won three of their last four, including a sweep of conference rivals Saint Lawrence and Clarkson last weekend.

The junior forward tandem of Eric Neiley and Brandon McNally, who had three points in his last game against Yale, leads the Big Green on offense with 20 and 16 points, respectively. Goaltender Charles Grant and forward Grant Opperman won ECAC goaltender and rookie of the week last week after Grant stopped 63 shots and allowed just two goals — both on the power play — and Opperman had three points and a +4 rating last weekend. Yale leads the all time series 107-89-14 but lost last time in Hanover 7–4.

The Bulldogs will have to pick up four points on the road and need losses from Clarkson and Cornell to vault into the top four of the ECAC.

“This weekend doesn’t place us under any more pressure,” Obuchowski said. “We know we need to get the next four wins but we are focused on Friday night and if we play like we are capable, we should be looking very good.”

Yale faces off against Harvard on Friday night at 7:00 and Dartmouth on Saturday at 7:05.

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